Climate change: Why aren’t more people alarmed?
A new U.N. report states with near certainty that humans are the force behind climate change.
“Humans are warming the planet,” said Brad Plumer in WashingtonPost.com, just as surely as “smoking causes cancer.” That’s the conclusion of a new report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which stated that there is now 95 percent certainty that mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change. The IPCC warned that to limit warming to the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) beyond which changes would become truly “dangerous,” the world cannot exceed a total of 1,000 gigatons in total carbon dioxide emissions. We’ve already emitted 531 gigatons over the past century. With the burning of oil, natural gas, and coal still proceeding unchecked, we may race to 1,000 gigatons in the next 25 years. The worst-case scenario can still be averted, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, but not without an end to the willful distortions of the climate-change deniers. “The first step in Carbonoholics Anonymous is admitting we have a problem.”
Actually, we still don’t know how serious that problem is, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Buried in the report from the professional alarmists is an inconvenient truth: Based on the carbon dioxide emissions since 1990, the IPCC climate-change models predicted warming of up to 0.9 degrees C. Instead, the warming was 0.1 C—almost flat. Since it’s now clear that scientists can’t reliably predict how CO2 affects climate, “now is the time for policy caution,” not wildly expensive schemes to restrict emissions. There’s no doubt that some warming is occurring, said Bjorn Lomborg in Time.com. But the apocalyptic scenarios promoted by Al Gore—global droughts and famines, 20-foot sea-level rises permanently submerging Florida and Bangladesh—were way overblown. Rather than clamoring for draconian emissions limits no country will abide by, climate activists should demand more funding for basic energy research, hastening the day that clean, renewable energy becomes cheaper than oil.
The usual suspects are “spinning at relativistic speeds trying to downplay this report,” said Phil Plait in Slate.com, but its bottom line truly is alarming. The last decade was by far the warmest on record, and there’s strong evidence that it wasn’t warmer still only because the extra heat is being absorbed by the deeper waters of the ocean. Meanwhile, rainfall patterns are changing, Arctic sea ice has continued to melt, the oceans are growing more acidic, and the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is now at its highest level in 800,000 years. Unfortunately, said Adam Corner in New Scientist, climate-change denial has more to do with “politics and values” than hard science. Conservatives don’t believe in government regulation or international meddling in free markets. Therefore, they refuse to accept that climate change is real. Climate activists should stop relying on “left-wing ideas and language” and use terms that resonate with the Right—such as safeguarding their children’s future.
This is an ideological issue for liberals as much as it is for conservatives, said Cathy Young in Newsday. Many activists have embraced climate change “as a quasi-religious crusade”—an opportunity to rid the planet of nasty SUVs, power plants, and consumer greed, and return us all to Mother Earth. They are therefore eager to embrace the worst-case climate scenarios, and to demand “drastic curbs on consumption” rather than consider scientific and technological solutions. If climate-change activists want more influence over public opinion, they’ll have to stop demanding simplistic solutions and engaging in “ideological zealotry.”